Monday, December 15, 2008

Ain't Goin To Goma

Friday was a busy day for us at the UN, so I didn't have time to blog a response to Michael Gerson's Washington Post piece that basically sorta-kinda advocated military intervention in Congo.

As far as hair-brained interventionist schemes go, I view this one with more empathy than most, for two reasons:
- Eastern Congo really is in a world of trouble, and Gerson, filing from Goma, is writing from the heart here.
- It's never gonna happen, so I don't need to worry about it.

Still, out of tradition, I need to lay the hammer down here. For starters, what exactly would foreign forces DO when they arrived? There's not a "vacuum of sovereignty," as Gerson claims, but a dispute of sovereignty between Hutu, Tutsi, Mai-mai militias and the Congolese army (which, since it often doesn't get paid, is nothing more than a militia itself). Throw MONUC into that mix too, as it mostly sides with the army, though it at least has the decency to protect civilians on occasion, something no other force in the region can say.

Gerson acknowledges that "[in] situations such as this one, President Obama's options will be flawed," since the AU and UN have limited capacity and a coalition of the willing is, well, somewhat discredited at this point. The problem lies not in Gerson's desire to end the suffering in Congo, but in his belief that the imposition of foreign troops to fill the sovereignty vacuum will make the situation better at all. Bringing in US or Western troops won't solve the underlying ethnic dispute, it will merely overwhelm it with firepower in the short term, and only for as long as we have the commitment to stay. (In other words, probably not long.) Moreover, the very problem in Congo is that foreign forces have routinely invaded and destabilized it, usually profiting for themselves, but never, no matter what their intentions, making the country a better place. That goes for the Belgians before Congo's independence, the CIA afterwards, and the Rwandans, Angolans, and the other six countries who had fighters claiming a stake of the last Congo war. It's a little hubristic of us to assume our Congo adventure will be different.

p.s. Congratulations if you got the highly, highly obscure music reference in the title of this post. Gotta love the Alabama 3.

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